Posts filed under ‘Multicultural Picture Book’

We Are the Ship sails the sea of Negro League Baseball

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball words and paintings by Kadir Nelson, foreword by Hank Aaron; published by Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, New York; 2008.

Kadir Nelson’s first attempt at writing a children’s book is a home run.  Coupled with his illustrations, he has captured the story of Negro League Baseball in a way that will appeal to young and old alike.  It is unusual for a nonfiction book to be narrated but in the case of We Are the Ship, it seems the only way to tell the story.  Nelson’s narrator is the voice of every man that played the great game of baseball during the segregated years. Immediately, I envisioned a grandchild sitting on the sofa next to Granddad, who has a photo album in his lap.  He is expressing his joy, frustration, and victories as a ball player and as a man.  Aside from the remarkable story-like appeal of the book, the facts are fascinating.  Do you know who created the first shin protectors worn by a catcher?  Or who wore the first batting helmet (bonus points if you know what that first helmet was used for originally!)?

To talk about a Kadir Nelson book without discussing the illustrations is unthinkable!  Images in We Are the Ship express the strength, smarts and skills of the players in remarkable realistic detail.  The paintings are based on photographs from collections at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.  Prints are available for purchase at Kadir Nelson’s website:

This book’s brilliance was rewarded with the 2009 Coretta Scott King Award for an author and the 2009 Robert Sibert Medal for nonfiction.

I have loved baseball since I kept a transistor radio under my pillow in elementary school.  My favorite childhood vacation was to Cooperstown, New York.  I thought I knew a great deal about the game.  I was wrong.  Like much of history, there is a subculture that is usually left out.  I highly recommend “sitting at Granddad’s knee” and listening to the story of Negro League Baseball.  Although the story is very accessible, We Are the Ship is told in great detail (the chapters are named for the 9 innings of the game, plus an extra innings chapter as an epilogue), therefore I recommend it for older readers (upper elementary and even into middle and high school) and even adults.

As a librarian, I would add this book to a spring training or baseball display.  I’d include it in pathfinders about the game, paired with fiction (like Mike Lupica’s Heat) and a list of Web resources, especially the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Play ball!


March 28, 2011 at 12:21 pm Leave a comment

Diversity, recycling, acceptance: Themes in Ballad of the Rag Man

Ballad of the Rag Man by Cynthia Gustavson; illustrated by Kristina Tosic; published by Blooming Twig Books, New York; 2009.

In the village wanders a man who collects “yesterday’s treasures” including an eyeless, love-worn teddy bear.  Our eyes through the story are those of the teddy bear’s former owner, a little girl.  She is scared of the silent stranger who picks through the neighborhood trash.  But when she follows him back to his home, she discovers him lovingly repairing her teddy bear, which he returns to her clean and with new eyes.  The teddy bear isn’t the only one with new eyes at the end of the story.  I think all readers will come away with a new vision of their neighbors.

The tale is told in rhyming verse.  It speaks volumes with a few well-chosen words that gently guide readers to the lesson at the end.  Tosic’s illustrations, mixed media including photographs and pen-and-ink drawings, vividly portray the story. They are pieced together much like the Rag Man’s work is a rag-tag collection of unmatched materials.  Together, the words and pictures tell a story of overcoming prejudice.  The dark, scribbly images reflect the words of the child describing the weird man in her village.  But as she learns about him, and accepts him as a neighbor, the words and images are brighter and full of hope.

Gustavson, a former teacher, is a psychotherapist who works with children.  She said, “I wrote this book because I found too many parents were teaching their children to be afraid of those who look different, or live on ‘the wrong side of town.’”  With that in mind, she said that the publisher has created the Rag Man Project, a non-profit endeavor, to promote diversity and publish more books about “compassion and understanding of those who are ‘not like you.’”  The book’s website,, includes parent and teacher resources that correlate with the book.  Along with promoting understanding and diversity, the Rag Man Project encourages “green” activities and volunteer work in local communities.

Reading this book took my breath away.  Not only does it read well, and not only are the illustrations perfectly paired with the verse, but the lessons of the story are timely.  Reading and discussing Ballad of the Rag Man is now on my family’s to-do list.

So, obviously, I would include this book in the multicultural displays as it teaches not to judge a book by its cover.  It also belongs in pathfinders or displays about recycling; after all, the Rag Man is the ultimate recycler!  Certainly, any list that includes this book should also include links to the Rag Man Project online (

(Note: A free copy of this book was provided by the publisher for me to review forStories for Children Magazine. I include the review here, with some additional thoughts.  Please note that all books I review for Stories for Children Magazine are donated to a local tutoring program for homeless and marginalized families.)

December 20, 2010 at 2:09 pm Leave a comment

Show Way is family, American history

Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson; illustrated by Hudson Talbott; published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, New York; 2005.

Jacqueline Woodson has created a book that chronicles a bit of American history along with some impressive family history.  The story of generations of women handing down their ability to share knowledge with others first through their needlework (creating “show ways” or maps to freedom on quilts) then in their ability to tell stories is written as though an oral history was captured on paper.  There’s a bit of a history lesson, about slavery and the pursuit of freedom, in Woodson’s words.  But even more importantly, there is a story of strength and love being passed from generation to generation; a story every mother wants to share with her children.  Remarkably, Hudson Talbott’s multi media illustrations further the story in breathtaking detail.  Look especially for the image of the sisters looking overwhelmed in front of a wall of hateful history.  Using watercolors, chalk, muslin and other fabrics adds dimension to the images, like piecing together the pieces of a patchwork quilt.  Put all together, Show Way sends a powerful message of love, hope and endurance.

All I thought about while reading Show Way was, “Why isn’t this book included in book lists for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day?”  When I worked in an elementary school library, I struggled to find powerful books about King and his message;   a way to use words and pictures to reach the minds and hearts of even the youngest students.  This book does all that.  I will recommend it to others for read-alouds in Black History Month or on MLK Day; I will refer it to parents wondering how to share family history with their own children.  Woodson has shown the way to do that!

September 2, 2010 at 1:00 pm Leave a comment

Library heroes

Finding Lincoln, written by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Colin Bootman; published by Albert Whitman & Company, Morton Grove, Illinois; 2009.

Heroes come in many shapes and sizes.  In 1951 Alabama, segregation included the public libraries.  Louis, an inquisitive student, desperately needs a book about President Lincoln as a boy.  No resources are available to him: his teacher and the satellite library at his church did not have what he needed for his report.  The young man, trembling inside, steps into the white-only library.  Two librarians were working; one angrily pointed to the segregation sign; one led him to the door, and whispered, “Come back tomorrow after 5:00.”  That night, the librarian’s hand trembled as she made a temporary library card for the young man.  Louis and the librarian took a shaky first step on the path to equality.

Malaspina’s story is compelling, truthful and moving.  She has a style that draws the students in without condescending or reaching over their heads.  Bootman’s illustrations tell more of the story.  The action spills off the pages in realistic snippets of the story.  Faces express every emotion Malaspina weaves with words.  Together, words and pictures build a setting that seems so, so real.

Students in upper elementary and even middle school should be using this book in social studies classes; perhaps it could be part of cross-curricular activities when students learn about Martin Luther King, Jr. or the Civil Rights Movement.  Maybe it could be paired with The Watsons Go to Birmingham (by Christopher Paul Curtis) for sixth graders.  In fact, there is even biographical information about Abraham Lincoln!  This book would be appropriate to display in February: covering both Presidents’ Day and Black History Month.  How many other books could do that?!

February 12, 2010 at 4:58 pm

The pied piper of…Harlem!

The Steel Pan Man of Harlem, written and illustrated by Colin Bootman; published by Carolrhoda Books, Minneapolis; 2009.

The end pages introduce us to the Harlem Renaissance, probably around the end of the era in the early 1930s by the look of the automobiles.  Indeed, as the story opens, we find ourselves in Harlem, a neighborhood overrun by rats.  One night, a mystery man disembarks a train with a steel drum.  His music is hypnotic, for humans and rats alike.  The Steel Pan Man reaches an agreement with the Mayor: He’ll receive $1 million if he can get rid of all the rats.  Sure enough, his sweet music charms the rats out of town, but leaves the biggest rat behind, Mr. Mayor himself.  With the promise broken, the music starts anew, the sweetest music yet, and the Mayor is unable to stop dancing and he fulfills his promise to the Steel Pan Man.  The story ends with both Mayor and mysterious stranger disappearing, never to be heard from again.

Like the end pages, the illustrations help tell the story.  Faces, especially, will help children fill in the blanks.  The little bits of humorous elements on each page will delight everyone who looks at this book.  Bootman’s story is a riff on the Pied Piper of Hamelin story.  He has really done a fine job of updating the story and creating a multi-cultural rendition.

Like I recommended with a variety of Cinderalla stories retold, I would include this in a display or pathfinder about various version of the Pied Piper story, maybe even for St. Patrick’s Day!

February 12, 2010 at 11:48 am

My Abuelita is a great storyteller

My Abuelita, written by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Yuyi Morales; published by Harcourt Children’s Books, Boston; 2009.

The morning routine for Abuelita and her grandson is the same every morning.  The woman, with hair the color of salt and a body the shape of a pumpkin, gets ready for work with the help of her adoring grandson.  As the rhythm of the story progresses, we wonder what job requires the grandmother to yodel and dress is bright, billowing clothes?  You’ll have to read it to find out!

Johnston does a wonderful job of weaving Spanish words into the story; he also gently builds curiosity by making the morning’s routine a little more absurd with each page.  But the real gem of this book is Morales’ illustrations.  Each image was created with clay and wire and other realia, then photographed and digitally manipulated.  Her ingenuity is evident from the cover art: a hand-tooled silver frame around a portrait of grandmother and grandson.  Every image is injected with a bit of humor for readers to find.  I laughed and laughed at the round dimes flowing out of Abuelita’s mouth while she is “booming.”

Of course this would be an ideal multicultural book to read.  However, it would also be appropriate to add to a list of books for read-alouds, given that Abuelita’s career is storytelling; I would use it on the first day of story time or on a first visit to the school library.  Also, it would be wonderful to display for Grandparents’ Day because this relationship is so sweet.

February 12, 2010 at 11:33 am

Music for the eyes and ears

Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls; published by Henry Holt and Company, New York; 2008.

The artist’s use of watercolor, acrylics and collage really set the mood for a little jazz: combining seemingly dissimilar styles into a singular song or image.  The lyric words create the sounds that influenced John Coltrane.  The placement of the text within the images also created the illusion of waves of sounds.  An author’s note at the end of the book offers more information about Coltrane and even provides a list for “listening” and reading.

I would combine this book with a selection of Coltrane’s CD’s in a box about jazz, or a program about jazz, or in a display during Black History Month.

January 10, 2010 at 11:31 am

Older Posts

a librarian's library of plans & resources for storytimes, programs & readers' advisory
Disclaimers: Per the FTC regulations, please note that sometimes books are received for review for free by publishers or authors. All books (ARCs, galleys, library or purchased) will be reviewed fairly; no special consideration is given to anything reviewed on this blog. In addition, I make every attempt to avoid spoilers. Sometimes they happen inadvertently or because they are important to defend a review; not all spoilers have been removed or fixed. This disclaimer is a general statement included as a warning to readers.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


RSS Sesame Street Podcasts

  • Meet Julia
  • Happy Valentine's Day
  • Grover Can Do it
  • Let's Dance
  • Furry Friends Forever